Operation Neil Peart: The Inspiring Story of Jeff L.

Jeff L at the BANG! Studios

This is the story of one of BANG’s students, Jeff L. It is also the first of a series on this blog about BANG students. I have found that my students often inspire me and that I learn from them just as much as they learn from me. For example, I recently gave a drum lesson to Daniel, a recent graduate from a music college in the midwest with a degree in jazz studies. I showed him a lick that I like to play and he tried it out on the drum set. He played it back to me with a new twist that I had never thought of. Awesome. I learned something from him that day.

So, back to Jeff L. and Operation Neil Peart. Jeff came to BANG about five months before his wedding, with a great drumming challenge ahead of him. Jeff has always been a huge RUSH fan, and he wanted to play the drums on a RUSH song at his own wedding. His plan was to have the wedding band learn the RUSH song in question, as would he, and then he would perform it with them during the party. Jeff is a very ambitious guy. When he came to BANG for drum lessons, he was essentially a self-taught drummer, without a whole lot of technique. He had done a bunch of practicing on his own and had a good deal of rock drumming independence. He had gained this skill primarily from listening to and playing along with a lot of records. One difficulty was that he did not know how to read music at all. As you, my dear reader, probably know, RUSH’s music is generally very complex. It’s full of many rhythmic twists and turns and rarely without at least one odd time signature thrown in. I was pretty sure that reading was a skill Jeff and I would have to deal with in order for him to meet his challenge. Jeff and I eventually agreed that he would learn the song “The Trees,” from RUSH’s seminal album, “Hemispheres.” Jeff was pretty adamant that he wanted to play the song note for note.

Needless to say, this was a big drumming challenge. I thought the most efficient way to handle this was to work from a transcription of the drum part. The book “Drum Techniques of RUSH” has a note for note transcription of the drum part Neil played on the track. Since Jeff did not read music, the beginning of our drumming mission was to teach Jeff enough drum notation to work from the transcription and to give him the basics of technique.

Jeff is an extremely hard worker and he had assured me from the beginning that he would study hard and practice. This was a necessary element of success here. Nothing else would have mattered had this not been the case. In fact, it would have been impossible for him to have succeeded had he not practiced like a maniac–which is exactly what he did.

For a few weeks (our lessons were once weekly), Jeff and I focused on technique and reading. Once we got to the point where he understood enough music notation, we starting diving into the details of the transcription. We worked on the piece in chunks. We would sit in the BANG studio, and look at the notation together. I would play him what was written and he would video me. He already knew the song really well, so he could recognize that the drum parts from the transcription were correct. Then, he would play the chunk of the transcription that we were working on by going home and practicing–a lot. Using the written transcription and the video of me playing that section (I played the sections significantly slower than on the recording), he would learn the drum part to the section of the song we were working on.

We proceeded this way until Jeff could play the entire song. Then, we focused on Jeff playing along with the track, until he could do so pretty much every time. This process took the entire five months or so. Jeff practiced so hard that he had the entire drum part for the entire song memorized! Pretty amazing. He also would drill down into the little pieces of the song, working on particular fills until he could nail them. A lot of the fills are pretty complex, so you could imagine how much hard work was involved here.

Jeff arranged to rehearse with the wedding band before the big day of his wedding arrived, and they were very impressed with his ability to play this very difficult music. The day of his wedding, Jeff sat in with the band and came very very close to playing the song perfectly during their one and only performance. He told me that he messed up one fill, but kept going (of course) and nailed the rest of the song.

I love this story because it is proof that with hard work and proper guidance, anyone can learn to do almost anything–not just in the world of music and drumming–but in general.

So, practice hard, get yourself help if you need it, and you can play anything on the drums that you want.

Jeff L. is definitely an inspirational character in my book.

I love the drums and hope you do too,
Mark Feldman